• Friedlander Upstander Award Essay by Edgar Lizama

    Edgar Lizama (3rd from right), was a student at Huntington High School at the time of receiving Honorable Mention for the Friedlander Upstander Award at HMTC’s 2018 Tolerance Benefit. His essay below demonstrates that he has acted as an Upstander against bullying and intolerance.

    Becoming an Upstander in my community is moving from silence to action.  I have decided to speak up against the negative stereotypes imposed upon the immigrant community and immigrants like myself attend school with the hope to learn the English language and achieve a higher education.  This task is complicated to achieve in a political atmosphere where the intolerance against the undocumented community on many occasions is cherished and encouraged.  The environment in what we the immigrants live is truly sad.  When I immigrated three years ago to the U.S., I only knew the poverty and violence I was going through in my country El Salvador.  The fairy tales that people from my country used to tell me about the U.S. are totally different from what I see now.  People being discriminated and called “aliens” is something that hurts me because this term is referred to extraterrestrial life or something that is not from the planet Earth.  There are some of many reasons why I have decided to become an Upstander and fight for the freedom of opportunity like the founding fathers of this country believed it.

    There are so many things that I see in my community and school that encourage me to help and advocate immigrants and student like myself.  One of the examples that made me cry is when I was in that room surrounded by those students who were born here and speak perfect English.  When I was in that room I felt isolated because the majority did not accept me or did not want to help me because I did not know how to speak English and also did not look like them.  I was different.  I was a foreign student with poor communication skills.  When I see immigrant students like me who have come from foreign countries of Latin-America I always try to welcome them with a smile.  Or sometimes helping them with their homework and translating phrases they do not know yet.  I do not want these students to feel like I used to, I am holding the door open for them because it was never opened to me.  I do not want them to be rejected because of their lack of English.  Instead, I want them to see me as one of them, as a brother they can always count on.  This is why I look forward to empowering the immigrants’ community and giving them a message that no one has the right to take away their dreams and hope because we are a family and we won’t let each other to be hurt by anyone.

    The stereotypes and political ideologies that I see here in America are sad and destroy immigrants families. For example, two years ago my mother worked in a fast food restaurant, she was an exceptional worker, she had a potential with a stamina that allowed her to do three tasks at the same time, she worked really hard to get those $400 at the end of the week.  However, her boss was a man that didn’t care what she did or how she felt, he just wanted to exploit her to get his profit.  There was one time that at the end of the week my mother’s boss did not pay her what she had really earned; he paid her $200 instead of $400.  And her boss thought it was okay because she was an undocumented immigrant that did not have a voice or rights because she was an alien, someone who did not belong to this country.  When I saw her come crying into our bedroom where my sister, she and I live, I was shocked and upset because this individual had hurt my mother, the one who brought me into this world.  I did not think twice what I was about to do.  I put my jacket on and went straight up to this restaurant.  I was a kid who knew some words in English.  When I got to this restaurant I looked straight up to his face and told him that my mother had the right to get paid what she had really earned.  I discussed with him the labor rights that I had read in U.S. history books in my school.  At the end of the debate between my mother’s boss and me we came up  with an agreement that he would give her the rest of the money that she had earned and that he would never do any of the type of this action upon any worker in his restaurant.  When I was walking home I felt the alleviation in my body and mind.  Since that time I understood that if we never try to make a change in our society our world is never going to change.

    Another way how I practice in my school being an Upstander is helping the ESL students (student with English as a second language).  In my school there’s a nickname for foreign Latinos students,  It is the “mamis and papis”.  Students who were born here in the U.S. used these nicknames to describe a Latino student that does not speak any English at all and those who only speak the Spanish language. I’ve been called by that name as well because I’m a foreigner.  However, since I have learned so much in this country in the academic and environmental field I have acquired different skills to protect myself and those who are being discriminated against from this stereotype.  Once I was walking into the library of my school and there was Alberto being called papi, the word that I’ve been described as.  I felt the anger but dint show it.  Instead, I used education which is a system that let me expressed my feeling in a passive way and I don’t offend anyone using it.  I remember telling everyone in that room of the library that is not a way to treat someone who has come to this country looking for a better way of life or telling them “we are not here because we want to be.  We are here because our parents have decided to bring us here to succeed and not leaving us in a country where violence, corruption, and poverty are the major obstacles that influence people to immigrate to the U.S.”  I was shielding my Latino brother, and I was proud to be at his side.  I’ll always have his back because this is why we are a family.

    To finish my story of how I’ve become an Upstander in my community and school, I want to let you know that I do not regret what I’ve done.  In these critical times where humanity do not understand the fundamental principals of life, freedom, and happiness is when we can make a change. I have decided to move from silence to action and speak up to make a change in our political atmosphere where immigrants like myself are being discriminated and hated.  These are the reasons why I have become an Upstander and I want to let all my immigrant community and family know that I am always going to be there for them.

    Are you an Upstander?

    If you have a story that sounds like Edgar’s and you are a Middle or High School student from Nassau or Suffolk Counties, share it with us! You might be our 2019 Friedlander Upstander Winner.

    Apply via the link below:

    Friedlander Upstander Awards

    Or mail to:

    Helen Turner | Friedlander Upstander Award, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY 11542

    For more information please call: (516) 571-8040 or email helenturner@hmtcli.org.

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